In Paris, thousands take to the streets to protest against Macron’s new “comprehensive security” law, reports Susan Ram
The evening of November 17 2020 saw thousands of protesters back on the streets of Paris, braving the health emergency to repudiate the Macron government’s latest assault on basic civil liberties. Rallying outside the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament, demonstrators raised slogans against the new “comprehensive security” bill proposed by Macron and his muscular interior minister, Gérald Darmanin. Debate on the provisions of the bill had begun earlier that day.
The proposed new law represents a further turn of the authoritarian screw by a government that, since its inception in 2017, has relentlessly waged war on civil liberties, freedom of speech and the right to protest, while bolstering the proclivity of French police and security forces for ‘robust’ responses and violent repression.
Under the new law, the vicious, no-batons-barred character of the French state’s approach to ‘policing’ – as reliably French as Chablis and Camembert -- stands to be given an even wider remit. The law proposes to give more autonomy to local police (including potentially arming more of them) and expanding the use of drones in ‘high-crime’ areas.
Most controversially of all: under Article 24 of the proposed legislation, which will apply to civilians and journalists alike, it will become a crime to show or diffuse identifiable, unblurred images of a police operative’s face. Publication on social media or elsewhere with the intention of undermining an officer’s “physical or psychological integrity” could be punished by one year’s imprisonment or fines of up to 45,000 euros.
As journalists and rights activists have pointed out, the new rules would effectively work as a “gag law’ similar to a measure in force in Spain since 2015. The primary aim is to block or hinder attempts to hold police accountable.
In addition to protests from human rights organisations, the proposed new law has drawn the ire of the UN Human Rights Council, which has warned that it “could discourage, even punish those who could supply elements of potential human rights violations by law enforcement, and provide a sort of immunity.”
Hundreds of complaints alleging violence have been filed against French police and security personnel over recent years, especially in the context of the Yellow Vest movement (whose second anniversary coincided with the November 17 protests).
In July, three officers were charged with manslaughter over the death of a delivery man, Cédric Chouviat, arrested in Paris for a traffic offence. Officers placed him in a chokehold, ignoring the seven occasions on which he managed to say “I’m suffocating” before his body went limp. As in the case of George Floyd, bystanders were able to capture on film his horrendous death by suffocation.
Trade unionists, students, Yellow Vest veterans and left organisations were among those joining journalists and rights activists on the streets of Paris. Demonstrations also took place in Bordeaux, Lyon, Grenoble, Marseille and other big cities. At Toulouse, which has become an impressive, combative centre of anti-regime action over recent years, more than 2,500 people were out in protest.
In Paris, the mass protest against police violence and Macron’s limitless vision of the possibilities of state repression was – predictably enough – met with water cannon and tear gas. On this occasion, however, no one had their eye gouged out or their limbs shredded by high-velocity ‘non-lethal’ weapons. Demonstrators had their smartphones at the ready.
If Macron, backed by his overwhelming parliamentary majority, has his way, recording the thuggery and mayhem carried out in the name of the state will soon be off-limits.
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Susan Ram is a writer, editor and journalist based in south-west France. She's currently at work on a book about the French Left, for publication in India, where she lived for many years.
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